Tait Escape: Why the Blaze Signing Ashley Tait Was Their Choice, Not Bullying

If you follow British ice hockey, you’ll have noticed over the past few weeks that Sheffield’s Dave Simms and I are not the best of friends when it comes to UK punditry. We tend to disagree on things quite often. Given that we’re both fairly vocal people who tend to stick to our guns, this recently led to a Twitter discussion on Sheffield’s budget in which I was dismissed abrasively as “merely a speculator” by Dave.

This is fine with me-I’ve been told I’m wrong quite often in my time covering UK hockey-variety is the spice of life in hockey opinions, just as much as anywhere else. But Simmsey’s Sky Sports blog today is certainly an interesting one, not least because I disagree with almost everything in it-not least the headline assertion that Blaze’s recent signing of Ashley Tait was done as the Blaze were “bullied into it” and “it’s not a direction they wanted to go in”, while simultaneously discussing Nottingham.

Leaving aside the fairly obvious fact that the chance to sign a premier British forward such as Tait, even at the age of 38, is a chance that most Elite League teams (including Simms’ own Sheffield) would doubtless kill to have (indeed, it’s been explicitly hinted in the Sheffield Star that the only reason Tait has left Sheffield is due to his wages being required for the big money signing of Rob Dowd).

So…let’s have a look at this blog, shall we? Italics are quotes from it, followed by my thoughts.

Some (teams) stick to their guns and some have to change tack a little. One of those teams that have had to make a change is the Coventry Blaze, while the one that is the hardest to read is the Nottingham Panthers.

The Cardiff Devils normally do their bullying in season. That small rink in Wales has been the home to some of the biggest bullies the EIHL has ever seen. This off-season, the Coventry Blaze have been bullied by Gerard Adams and Cardiff. Former Sheffield forward Ashley Tait has been the biggest benefactor in this process, signing a new two-year contract with the Blaze, a side he previously captained to a Grand Slam.

So, the first argument is that Cardiff, despite not doing anything explicit to Coventry (at this moment) were the main contributors in Coventry re-signing one of the premier British forwards in this country? If so, I fail to see how giving the team the impetus to sign one of the best players of his kind in the country is “bullying”. But let’s go on with this, shall we?

I thought Tait would move to Nottingham. I still can’t quite understand why he didn’t. Nottingham lost Matthew Myers and there simply isn’t another British forward who can play on a top nine of any top team available.

Maybe it’s to do with the widely-discussed problems that Tait had when leaving Nottingham after ten years back in 2002/03, when he decided his career would go the other way. Maybe it was the chance to go back to the club where he won an EIHL treble and had some of his most successful years. Maybe it was the chance to take on a player/assistant-coach role in Coventry just as he’d done in Sheffield, that perhaps wouldn’t be available in Nottingham. All of which are compelling reasons. As for that “no other British player who can play top nine of any top team available” comment…remember that, we’ll come back to it later.

The Coventry Blaze in recent years have offloaded their experienced and expensive home grown talent such as Jonathan Weaver, Greg Owen and Robert Farmer. The Blaze view was that they were overpaying for non-difference makers, so Coventry threw their money into their 11 import signings, guys who their then head coach Paul Thompson felt were the go-to-guys who would put the points on the board and win matches. This worked for them last season and I honestly believe was their policy again this summer.

Interesting you use the words “offloaded” and “homegrown talent”. Firstly, none of the three players you mention are Coventry locals-in fact, Rob Farmer developed mainly in Sheffield with the EPL Scimitars/Steeldogs and…oh, yes, the Sheffield Steelers, too, along with a brief burst with the Manchester Phoenix. Weaver was adjudged to be expendable in the new team last season due to wages (much like the Steelers did with Tait) and Greg Owen? Ah, Greg Owen. The decision to leave the Blaze was his, due to work commitments and looking towards a life after hockey at the end of last season. He spent his final season close to home in Basingstoke. Not “offloaded” at all-in fact it was Owen’s decision solely, with the player himself announcing he was leaving the Blaze to sign closer to his home town in Reading. Rob Farmer, meanwhile, had agreed a contract with Coventry for 2012/13 before Braehead came in with a “big money” offer.

Then of course there’s the “throwing money into import signings working” and it “being policy of the Blaze this summer too”. Firstly, I question that the tactic “worked” when Blaze barely managed to finish 4th in the EIHL, needed a miracle to make the PO weekend and relied upon two less OT losses finish ahead of the Devils and 19 points behind Sheffield, but we must have different definitions.

Interesting that in my conversations with Blaze officials the lack of depth among British players compared to the “top” teams has been widely lamented as contributing to Blaze’s problems last year, particularly with import injuries being what they were. They must be saying different things to different people if you genuinely thought the Blaze weren’t going to learn from their mistakes and perhaps try a policy of more depth in an attempt to close that 19 point gap. Apart from anything else that hardly gives Paul Thompson and Matty Soderstrom credit, does it?

That was until Cardiff signed Myers. The Blaze, already chasing Belfast, Nottingham and Sheffield saw Cardiff as their par club, a team they could compete with for fourth place in the EIHL standings. Cardiff laid down their intent for the year ahead with the Myers signing and they also beat the Blaze to the signature of goalie Frank Doyle.

This is the first statement in the blog you might be right with-including the Frank Doyle part.

For Coventry to compete they simply had to add another British player, adding the depth but also the ability of a guy like Tait. They got bullied into the Tait deal. Sure it benefits them; they are, in my opinion, a better club with Ashley but this wasn’t the direction the Blaze were in or wanted to go down a month ago.

So, so far your argument is that the Blaze had to compete, wanted to, but weren’t willing to follow a template that worked until Cardiff managed to get back Matt Myers? Methinks you’re giving the Myers signing far too much credit, especially given that negotiations with Ashley Tait were ongoing almost as soon as he was released by Sheffield.

Coventry had to make a statement that they were still a club that could compete. Their supporters needed to hear that as well as they feared a 5th place conference finish and a possible 6th place league ending if the Braehead Clan had their anticipated success in the Gardiner Conference. They love their Grand Slam Captain of 2005 in Coventry. Tait will always be a hero there but the Blaze got bullied into signing him back.

So, in summary, Coventry needed to make a statement all offseason, but got bullied into actually making that statement? Is that not a blatant contradiction? How can you get bullied into something you need to do anyway?

Right. Let’s move on to your thoughts on Nottingham’s need to replace Matthew Myers (a top-six forward for the Panthers last season, notably. It’s going to be tricky with there being, as you say “no other British forwards available who can play top-nine for a “top” team…

Of course the Panthers preferred choice is Robert Farmer, the former Sheffield, Coventry and Braehead forward. Many of us thought he would succumb and sign in Nottingham, but he has a desire to play in the East Coast Hockey League (United States) and my understanding is that dream is close to becoming a reality with an ECHL side agreeing terms with Farmer and the move now more than likely taking place.

So, having previously argued that there is no other British forward who can play top-nine, you now focus on Rob Farmer and claim that an ECHL team are close to signing him? Not that I doubt your information but how on earth can you dismiss Farmer as an option for Nottingham behind Ashley Tait then point this out-especially as the move hasn’t yet taken place beyond “your understanding” which is a fancy word for “speculation”. 

Anyway-moving on a little:

So is the signing of young Norton is an indication that Neilson might go with just three import defensemen and throw that additional import up front as the Myers replacement?

It’s a risk. Many thought Nottingham could have won the Elite League title a few years before they did and one of the reasons they failed was down to playing just three import D when the eventual winners went with a more solid four.

Interestingly, the last time Nottingham went with three import D was 2006/07…under Mike Ellis. That’s a long reach back considering that every year since then, they’ve had some combination of four imports and also Danny Meyers (arguably easily as good as an import) throughout the season. However, interestingly the 2009/10 league champion Coventry Blaze only had 3 imports on their blueline for the majority of their season (Brian Lee, Jason Robinson and Matty Soderstrom) with Chris Allen, the other import, only playing ten games. Nottingham…had four. Kind of struggles with your “Nottingham didn’t win because only three D imports is a big reason for losing the league title” argument, doesn’t it?

Last season the title-winning Panthers went with four, including Neilson himself, though he soon moved to behind the bench and Nottingham asked forward and captain Jordan Fox to drop down onto the blue line alongside Guy Lepine, Eric Werner and Jason Beckett. Any thoughts he could do so again disappeared this week with the news that Fox was to return home to North America and a player assistant coaching job in the CHL.

Again, a little off. Granted, Jordan Fox was asked to step down onto the blue-line but in terms of import D Nottingham again spent the majority of the season with three-Stevie Lee and Jonathan Weaver both received a lot of ice-time with Fox rotating in to give one of them a break in between the odd forward shift. Fox saw a lot of his time alongside Lee, in fact, with the Panthers using 6 D at all times including regularly pairing Lee and Weaver…a masterstroke both for depth and in continuing the development of Lee to the point where he could legitimately fill a number 4 D role this season.

Most coaches you can second guess. Corey Neilson isn’t one of them. My view is that Farmer is their preferred option even if that means waiting to see if the North American exercise works out and being there to sign him mid-season if it doesn’t. The fact that the experienced Levers hasn’t yet been signed up tells me that Corey has a plan; just that he isn’t sharing it with any of us at the moment.

Fairly sure that’s what’s known as “stating the obvious”. It’s interesting, though, that you don’t consider the basic pitfall of this though-which is that you’ve gone from saying Farmer isn’t good enough to play top-nine for a top EIHL team to saying he’s off to the ECHL, then the Panthers preferred option in the space of a column-nor do you consider the likes of Josh Ward stepping into the third line after several seasons of encouraging development . Then of course there’s the assertion that Nottingham are the “hardest to read” at the beginning being replaced by “oh, they’re going to sign the best British player remaining” at the end.

But the tip-top top of the icing and the biggest hole in the many in the blog is that “bullying” assertion regarding Tait-especially after saying on the same day in the Sheffield Star that Coventry is an “ideal fit” for Tait in a story that also points out he’s going to be on half the wage he was at Sheffield.

Frankly, if Dave Simms’ definition of “being bullied” means “being forced to take on one of the best players of his kind in the league for half the salary he could expect from another club”…then bully away, EIHL. We in Coventry will take all that type of bullying we can get.



One thought on “Tait Escape: Why the Blaze Signing Ashley Tait Was Their Choice, Not Bullying

  1. I don’t always agree with you Paul, but I love this, every paragraph taken apart and shown to be flawed. Great piece

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